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Posts Tagged ‘God’s love’

A reflection on Genesis 1.

The first chapter of the first book of the Bible was written for/by the people of Israel while they were in exile in Babylon. It was written as a protest against all those voices which were telling them that they were ‘nobodies’, ‘losers’ in life. To the Babylonians, they were just one more conquered nation. They felt humiliated, broken, and rejected. They were victims: pawns of Babylonian power, of forces that were beyond their control.

The first chapter of Genesis says, “You are confused about your identity. You have forgotten who you are and what defines you. What is decisive is not what the Babylonians think about your. What is decisive is not even what you think about yourself. What is decisive is what God thinks about you.” The story of creation proclaims that God’s primary relationship toward God’s creation is one of delight and graciousness.

Throughout the story, God looks at what God has made and pronounces it “good” — lovely, pleasing, beautiful. God gives God’s blessing three times: over living creatures, over human beings, and over the sabbath, the day of rest. The Creators delights in the creation. It brings God joy.

G. K. Chesterton imagined God’s childlike delight in what God had made. He said, “If you take a five year old child, throw her into the air, catch her, bounce her off your knee and then set her down on the floor, she will exclaim, ‘Do it again! Do it again!’ Every time you do it, she will shout with more enthusiasm, ‘Do it again!’ Even if you repeat the process a dozen time, the child will not tire of it. You will have to stop before she want you to.”

Chesterton believed that God maybe that way about creating daisies. He imagined God creating the first daisy and enjoying it so much that something deep inside God exclaimed, “Do it again!” When God made the second daisy, God was even more excited and shouted, “Do it again!” As God creates daisy after daisy, and after making the one hundred billionth daisy, God is filled with even more excitement than when God first began.

It is a wonderful image — but not just for daisies. It is a wonderful image for human beings as well. Can you imagine the joy and delight God had when God created you? Can you imagine the joy and delight God still has in you?

Most of us are far more aware of how often we have messed up. We live far more deeply out of the third chapter of Genesis that we do out of the first. You know the story: God places Adam and Even in a beautiful garden with everything they could want of need. The only rule was not to eat the fruit from one of the trees in the garden. Of course, the first thing they did was to betray the trust God had placed in them, eat the fruit and get expelled from the garden . . . and the rest of us have been paying the price ever since.

That is the story that many of us live our lives by. The truth is, we do betray the trust God places in us. We do reject the love that God lavishes upon us and treat it carelessly.

But, that is not the most important thing about us. The deeper truth is that God loves us and delights in us and will do whatever it takes to reconcile us to God, short of coercing us to love God.

There is a significant difference when God creates human beings from when God creates the rest of creation. With all the rest of creation, God speaks a word. The creation responds and becomes what God calls it to be. Then, God moves on to the next thing: day and night; sky and land; sun, moon and stars.

The pattern changes when it comes to making human beings. They are the only part of the creation to whom God speaks directly. God creates them and then starts talking to them. In entering into conversation with them, God invites them to enter into a personal relationship that is different from God’s relationship with the rest of creation.

“Speaking” signifies two things: God is intensely committed to human beings; human beings have the marvellous freedom to respond. God creates because God wants to share love. At the pinnacle of the process of creation, God creates a creature who can choose to love in return.

Each of us has the choice to respond to God’s love in our lives or not. We can listen to the voices that tell us that we are nobodies who will never measure up. Or, we can choose instead to listen to the voice of God who delights in us much more than we can imagine. We can listen to God who believes in us much more than we believe in ourselves. We can listen to God who entrusts us with the great and holy work of shining the light of Christ in our world.

That voice is so committed to us that the Word comes to us in Jesus of Nazareth. That voice will challenge our fears, our lies, the shallowness of our lives. That voice will bring us to that place where we experience the joy and the delight God has in us. Thanks be to God.

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We come into your presence with
hungry hearts
and thirsty spirits
and tattered souls.

You offer us truth that sets us free:
we did not make ourselves;
we do not keep ourselves;
we cannot save ourselves.

You offer us truth that sets us free:
we are wonderfully made in your image;
we are safely kept in your care;
nothing in all creation can take us beyond
your steadfast love and faithfulness.

So, we reach out to you.
We lay before you the concerns that bind our hearts.

Enfold us with your healing power;
pull us deeper and deeper into your transforming power;
nurture and nourish our souls till they shine with your love
and bless all whose lives we touch.

We ask in the name of Jesus,
your Way, your Truth, your Life.

Amen.

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A prayer for the Baptism of our Lord Sunday based on Psalm 9 and Luke 3: 15-22

Lord, we lift your name on high.
We sing your praises.
We tell of your wonderful deeds.

We are your creatures
met by your holiness
in ways that surprise us
yet give us life and hope.

You take our fatigue
and give us strength;
you take our despair
and turn us toward hope;
you take our dead ends
and bring your new beginnings.

By the cross of Jesus,
through the brooding of your Holy Spirit,
you ache and hurt and care over us
and with us
and beyond us
till we are made new;
till we are drawn deeper into your love.

So, we lift your name on high,
yielding our lives to your good care,
in the name of your Beloved,
your Delight, Jesus,
who draws us into the waters of baptism
where your love floods over us
and give us Life.

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“Resolutions Worth Keeping”

A sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday.

Mark 1: 4-11

Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Did you resolve to lose weight? To get out of debt? To learning something new? Have you kept your resolution so far? What do you do when you fail to keep your resolution? Do you hit the restart button and start again?

I don’t know what time of year it was when John the Baptizer showed up in the wilderness but it sounds like he knows about the drive that pushes us to make New Year’s resolutions. He knows about the desire to improve our lives. Mark says that the John shows up in the wilderness places of our lives proclaiming “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

“Repentance” and “forgiveness” are about making changes in our lives so that we can experience more life, a better life, a blessed life — life in all its fullness. John has something larger in mind than just losing a few pounds or exercising more. Mark says John’s message is the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ”. Before we are through Mark’s gospel, we shall have been caught up in a great adventure. We shall have experienced a life lived with such courage and passion and hope that the whole world is changed and transformed.

When John calls you to repent, he is not scolding you for bad behaviour. He is not talking about your moral failures and telling you to behave better. John calls you to repent, to turn around, because God is on the move in the world. God, the ruler of history, is about to do something new and, if you want to get in on it, you have to get ready.

You repent when you say, “I refuse to settle for merely holding on. I refuse to cling to a past that is familiar and comfortable but is now disappearing. There is no life in that.”

I have heard someone confess that kind of repentance. She did not use that language, but the action was there. She was ninety years old. In the past, when I had visited her, she talked about her church: how she liked the old hymns and the old liturgy and the dressing up for worship. She did not like all the new changes that were being made in other churches. Then, her church died. There were no young people. There were not enough people or money to keep it going. She joined with another congregation. The ushers wore jeans. Music was played on keyboards and rhythm instruments. The minister did not preach three-point sermons. It was not what she was used to. It was not what she liked in a worship service. However, this time, she said, “There are lots of young families. There are lots of activities going on.” She liked the ‘life’ that was present, even though she still missed the old familiar ways. She was glad that there was ‘life’. That’s repentance.

Repentance is saying, “I refuse to frame my life by despair.” Despair is a common response these days. We face huge challenges and there are no easy solutions in sight. Many people believe that the future is bleak. They feel that there is nothing to hope for, nothing to live for. Repentance says, “I refuse to give up expecting that God will do a new thing. I refuse to stop looking for signs that the risen Christ is on the premises, bringing new life where death seems to prevail.”

To repent is to go out to the world wasted by violence and greed and to turn your life consciously and intentionally toward hope. Mark’s gospel says that hope is not a concept or an ideal or some power of positive thinking. Hope is a person: the person of Jesus who shows up unexpectedly in the midst of your ordinary life with the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Whatever God is up to in Jesus, that is our hope.

The Church has now entered the season of Epiphany. Epiphany begins on January 6th, when the Church marks the visit of the magi to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. On the first Sunday of Epiphany, the church marks Jesus’ baptism, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Epiphany begins with God’s voice saying, “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” (Mark 1:11, The Message)

The season of Epiphany will end on Transfiguration Sunday when the Church heads up a mountain with Jesus and again hears God say, “This is my Son, my Beloved. With him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17:5) From that place, Jesus will head to the cross and the culmination of his ministry here on earth. Jesus’ life is framed by God’s word to him: You are my Beloved.  Jesus is beloved at the beginning. He is beloved at the end. Every moment in between is bathed in the love of God.

To repent is to turn, consciously and intentionally, day by day, towards the voice that also call you “My beloved.” It is to keep remembering that that is who you are. You belong to the One who calls you “My beloved child.”

That was the truth that was proclaimed at your baptism. It is the truth that undergirds every moment of your life. It is your most fundamental identity: “Beloved of God”. Nothing in all creation can separate you from that great love.

This is not a love that is tame or comfortable. It is a love that is powerful beyond our imagining. It plunges you into a life shaped by God’s grace. The psalmist tells us that the voice of the God who calls us Beloved shakes the mountains. It makes the desert shake. (Psalm 29)

Karl Barth once said that it is not God’s wrath that you should be afraid of, but God’s love. God’s love will change you. It will change your world. It is God’s love that will set you free from destructive habits that diminish your life. God’s love will lead you into developing the courage and commitment you need to become the kind of person who lives life to its fullest.

God’s love draws you into God’s new creation. God’s love plunges you into the great adventure of trusting radically in the living Christ so that you find your place in God’s salvation work in the world. The world is not without purpose. Our lives are not pointless. You and I can live in hope.

It all begins with soaking in God’s great love for you. It all begins with your receiving the grace of God that Jesus brings. It all begins as you surrender to the mystery of the Holy Spirit blessing your life.

Will you repent? Will you turn from anything that makes you disbelieve that God loves you with a deep, abiding love? Will you turn day by day toward the life-giving embrace of Jesus Christ? Will you receive the Holy Spirit’s work to claim your true identity as God’s beloved child?

Those are resolutions worth keeping.

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